[Editor’s note: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell joined ProFootballTalk Live on Wednesday, May 11, for an interview that touched on various pending topics and issues. The full transcript appears below.]
MF: We have Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner, joining us now. Roger, thanks for your time, how are you?
RG: I’m good Mike, how are you?
MF: I’m doing great and I appreciate you taking some time to visit with us again. We were just talking about the stadium situation in Minnesota, and one point I made is that it still hinges on the Minnesota Legislature deciding to fund a large chunk of that project. How confident is the NFL that the Legislature in Minnesota is going to come through with that money?
RG: Well, we’ve been working with the State Legislature and local government authorities to put together a package that makes sense both to the state and the local community. And also, allows the team to continue to be successful there. The big plus here is that the leadership, including the business leadership and the political leadership have recognized that we have to address this stadium issue for the long-term health of the Vikings and that community. And we’re considering different alternatives and different locations, but there was some progress yesterday, and I think that’s a positive thing for everybody, particularly the fans of Minnesota.
MF: Well, one area where there hasn’t been much progress lately has been in the Eighth Circuit Appeals Court in St. Louis. What’s your understanding as to why, Roger, that court still hasn’t ruled on that pending motion to stay the lifting of the lockout while the appeal is resolved?
RG: I don’t have any understanding of it, Mike, other than they expedited the hearing to June 3rd. The stay is in place, at least as of right now, and that we’re all focused on submitting the briefs that we did yesterday, and making sure that we’re prepared for the argument on June 3rd.
MF: And let’s go back in time a couple of weeks. When Judge Susan Nelson issued the ruling lifting the lockout, some concluded that the NFL was really caught off guard by that ruling. How surprised was the league and the owners by the decision by Judge Nelson that the lockout should be lifted?
RG: Well, you never know how a court is going to order the operations, and that is something that you have to adjust, and you don’t get any advance warning of it. The judgment is issued and it’s your responsibility to first understand that. We obviously have a disagreement on the basic issues and that’s why we’ve taken it to the appellate court. But then you also have to understand how it impacts your operation, and wanting to do that in an orderly and responsible fashion, respecting the court’s decision but also pursuing your rights. That’s what we did and it’s something that we’ll have to be prepared for anytime you’re in a litigation environment.
MF: Now, the league issued a statement recently indicating there are a wide range of alternatives that are being considered if the appeals court concludes that the lockout should indeed be lifted. Is there a concern on the part of the NFL that no matter what rules the league would choose to put in place after the lifting of the lockout, those rules are going to be attacked as antitrust violations by the players?
RG: You know, Mike, that’s the core of what concerns me about the antitrust challenges that the union attorneys are pursuing. They are pursuing attacking aspects that have made the league successful. The draft is a great example of it, since we just completed that. They say it’s anticompetitive and illegal, and their documents all indicate that. So they’re challenging the legality of that draft. Other attorneys could decide that they want to attack other aspects of our system, whether it be free agency system, roster sizes, any aspect of our system. And if there’s an attorney that wants to pursue that, and a judge that’s willing to give an injunction, that’s something that we have to deal with. And as you can imagine, that’s not a way to be able to operate your league in a successful fashion. So that’s why we think this has to get back to the negotiating table and get a collective bargaining agreement that works for both sides and get out of this litigation mode, because it will not be in the best interests of the game long term, and I do not believe will be in the best interests of the players over the long term.
MF: Well, what do you say in response to the belief by some that the attack on the draft is all about leverage, and when push comes to shove, the players really don’t want to see the draft go away; they’re just acting like they’re attacking the draft so they can get the best possible deal?
RG: Well, I’m only reacting to what they submitted in court. I understand the game of trying to get leverage, understand that entirely. But they are attacking us in court and saying they are not going to return as a union, and that this will be subject to attack, either by the union’s attorneys or by some other attorneys. So the fact is, if they are going to not be in a union, which is what they say, then this could be attacked by not only those attorneys but by other attorneys. And those attorneys have already filed papers saying they’re attacking it as anticompetitive and illegal.
MF: We caught wind over the weekend of some talk that one of the potential alternatives in the event that the lockout is lifted would be for the NFL to just cease all operations completely until a deal is reach with the players. Is that an option that’s on the table for the National Football League?
RG: Mike, the only thing I’m going to say in regard to any of these rumors – there’s all kinds of reports – is that, you know, we’re considering a variety of different alternatives based on the court decisions. We’ll have to do that, and we’ll be prepared to do that, and we’re going through that process.
MF: We talked earlier in the show about the new Harris Poll that says 19% of folks who responded will be less likely to watch NFL games if the lockout delays the start of the season. What does the league say in response to that poll?
RG: Well, Mike, it doesn’t surprise me. I think the fans are frustrated, just as I’m frustrated and others are frustrated that we haven’t been able to reach an agreement, particularly in this period where now litigation has taken over and, other than limited mediation, there has been no negotiations since early March. And they’re pursuing leverage and success in the courts. This has got to get to a labor agreement. And if it continues — the uncertainty — I think it does impact not only our fans, but our business partners, which will impact on the players long-term. And I think that’s one of the things that we’re trying to get across — we call it value destruction — that we’ve made clear to the union leadership. The longer this goes, the more damage to the game, and the more it impacts on them. That is not good for anybody involved with this game and it’s certainly not good for our fans. So, I understand that frustration and I hear from fans all the time. I just got off a fan call a few minutes ago with the Cincinnati Bengals. The frustration is real, and the longer it goes, the more it will continue to grow.
MF: Now, you mentioned the fact that there haven’t been any real negotiations — meaningful negotiations — since early March. And I think a lot of the fans just assume that the only way talks are going to occur is with a third-party mediator involved. Have there been any discussion about trying to resume these talks face-to-face without a third party just so the two sides can get together and try to work something out?
RG: Well I’m not going to get into any private discussions, Mike. I would tell you that it’s clear to me that the NFLPA lawyers have not shown any interest in negotiations. They have stated publicly that negotiations are over and that they were unsuccessful and that they’re pursuing litigation. I think that’s wrong for everybody, including the game and including the players. They’re committed to a litigation strategy right now, we’re committed to a collective bargaining strategy, something that would lead to a CBA that will be good for everybody.
MF: One of the facts that has gotten lost in the shuffle the last couple weeks is that mediation tentatively is scheduled to resume next week, May 16, in Minneapolis. I think a lot of people look at that and say, “Well, there’s really no point in getting together because each side does seem to at least be waiting for the appeals court decision before there would be any movement.” Do you think there would be any chance of any movement at mediation before the Eighth Circuit issues a decision?
RG: Well, Mike, I don’t think those meetings are tentative. I spoke to the mediator earlier this week and we’re going to be there May 16th and 17th, along with four owners. So we come into this mediation session with every hope and intent to make them productive. But, as you point out, if there aren’t two parties there willing to negotiate, and they’re not willing to address the issues in a negotiation, and they’re sitting waiting for their litigation strategy, it’s not likely they’re going to be productive. But I can tell you that the owners will come in there with a very open mind and a willingness to negotiate.
MF: And you mentioned that four owners will be there and the last time there was mediation there were four owners present for each of the sessions. Do those owners who show up, are they carrying the authority to do a deal on behalf of all 32 owners or would any deal have to go back for a full vote?
RG: Well, Mike, just like any party, including the NFLPA, you have to get a full-party vote. These are members of our CEC which is our labor committee, as you know. There are 10 members out of the 32 owners. We are in constant contact with the 32 clubs. We have done I think a very good job of keeping every owner involved and aware of every step along the way. And these are four owners that will be coming at this session on the 16th and 17th, will coming with authority from the committee and the membership to drive towards a negotiation and drive towards a deal. And then we’ll work it through our process. But I’m comfortable that we can reach an agreement with the CEC or members of the CEC, that we’ll get the full support of the membership.
MF: Now at the draft a couple weeks ago before the process started, you took the stage, there were some heavy boos from the crowd at Radio City Music Hall. Last week, Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports has some quotes on the record and off the record from players, some strong comments evidencing some frustration that the players have. Why do you think that anger is being directed at you and do you get to a point where it bothers you to have those things said that some of the players are directing at you personally?
RG: Mike, you know, that’s understandable. As commissioner of the league, that happens, and you know, you have to understand that. I understand the frustration of both the fans and the players and the clubs. I think everybody is frustrated right now. The issue is, you’ve got to get back at the negotiations and address the issues in a responsible fashion. Emotion is not going to help us resolve this issue. It’s important for us all just to get back and address this in a businesslike fashion that will be good for everybody and fair to everybody.
MF: Now, you’ve said before that you’re the Commissioner for the entire game’s constituents: players, fans, owners, etc. But there seems to be more and more people who believe that in this setting, with this lockout, you are the Commissioner only for the owners. What do you say in response to those who believe that?
RG: My interest is in the game, and continuing to grow the game. The 32 owners felt very strongly that this labor agreement was not working for them. I understand why it’s not working for them. It’s imperative that we get together and find a deal that works for 32 clubs but also all of the players. Whatever agreement is struck here, Mike, I wouldn’t want the players four years from now to feel the way the owners do about the current agreement. That’s not the right way to do this. It needs to have a balance to it that is responsible to the concerns of each party. And recognize here that neither party is going to get everything that they want, but they have to get what they need, and to put together an agreement that makes sense for the game long term.
MF: You’ve been asked in some of the conference calls you’ve been engaging in with some of the season ticket holders whether there’s a drop dead date to get the full season in. I want to look at that a little bit differently. Is there a minimum period that the NFL has identified between the lifting of the lockout and being ready to play a real game, a regular season game. Is there a minimum window that the NFL has specified for getting that done?
RG: We have not specified a date but Mike, the reality is that that will change. The longer this goes, I think the longer the period is, because it will be a longer period of inactivity, and the longer it will take to get the players back ready to play — not just from a player health and safety plan standpoint, to make sure that we reduce the risk of injury, but also from a quality of play standpoint. So there isn’t a specific period of time, but the longer it goes, probably the longer that period is going to be.
MF: The first Sunday of the regular season coincides with the 10th anniversary, one of the darkest days in NFL history. Who should the fans blame if the NFL doesn’t play games that day?
RG: Well 9/11 is not the darkest day in NFL history, it’s the darkest day in our country’s history.
MF: I’m sorry, I misspoke.
RG: That’s a tragedy that affected all of us and particularly those of us here in New York or Washington or western Pennsylvania. And I think it’s important that that be recognized in a responsible fashion. We have scheduled our games around that, we have made plans for appropriate recognition of that, and we certainly hope that that will be where we are.
MF: Well, Commissioner I know you’ve got a lot going on. I appreciate you taking some time to be with us today. We wish you all the best as you try to get this situation worked out, and hope to talk to you again down the road.
RG: You bet, Mike, thanks for everything.